A book seems a really big and all consuming thing right now. Having finished the latest draft a couple of weeks ago during lockdown I’ve touched up a few chapters but not gone back to it since. I’ve taken to doing smaller writing tasks that provide much more of an instant gratification upon completing them. I’ll spent time reviewing a cheap game over on the video game blog my son and I keep. I’ll write some more about wrestling and put that up on Bad Education. I’ve also discovered single player role playing games during the lockdown, one of which is scratching that writing itch just dandy right now. It’s called The Machine by Adira Slattery and Fen Slattery and it’s something of a revelation.
The Machine involves the keeping of a journal detailing how your character makes the titular contraption. It can be anything you want it to be. In my case it’s quite small like a pocket watch and able to sing songs from within. You play the game alone but the idea is that, once your character meets their demise, you pass the journal onto a friend so they carry it on as somebody who has found or been given the same journal. My current character is a discreet magician (I figure he’d have to be in order to keep his tricks under wraps).
You select two options from a list of about sixty jobs and characteristics, crossing them off the lost so nobody else can choose them. Using a deck of playing cards you lift the card on top and the number and suit influences what has happened. For example my first entry proper was the six of diamonds which gave me ‘hateful’ and ‘a sleepless night’. There followed a frantic half hour as I described my character pacing around his elaborate study in the early hours sketching his grand plan for the construction of the machine that would gain himmhis fortune. After those thirty minutes I was done, I could move on, I had achieved something. No long think times, no sitting infront of a blank page and no going back to rewrite. The Machine is part game and part creative writing exercise and if you’re a writer at a loose end or needing something of a writing based distraction then it’s a good $5 to spend.
The book still hangs over me though and it’s something of a problem to work on it knowing that there’s a whole heap more to do before I get that ‘done writing’ hit.
It turns out there is nothing quite like doing a chapter by chapter breakdown of your book to start a complete emotional rollercoaster. At some points I thought it was all stitching together extremely well, at others there was the feeling that nothing was going right and the whole thing had fell apart.
But at least now I have a list with each chapter and a couple of lines saying what does and doesn’t work with each. Only one of them has the words ‘delete this whole thing because it’s terrible’ written across it so it’s not that bad a score.
The first two chapters have already been rewritten and are actually now in a readable form. It’s just a matter of shining up the rest and making sure they stitch together well.
I haven’t vanished to be never seen again. I have done something that feels like that by moving house. We’ve been in the new place for about four weeks now and most of the boxes are away but some remain resolute in the corner of the spare room.
Our old house was on the market since March so the need to find a buyer has been hanging around all that time. I’m very glad to see the back of it.
No sooner did we have something resembling order of things then Christmas had to be prepared for. Writing has been pushed aside for a while. I’ve also yet to pick somewhere in the new place to sit and write. The previous house just had a view of the surrounding homes, this one has a hill at the back where the sun sets.
In the new year we resume.
It was going fairly well. At one point in the first week of July I was rewriting a chapter each day. Then I got into a complete funk for a few days in which I wasn’t in the mood for anything other than watching Chill With Bob Ross with the lights off. Battling through this book was off the agenda because it felt exactly that, an uphill battle with no guarantee of anything at the end of it. Whatever it was it gnawed a big hole in my confidence.
I bought more notepads the other day. I probably didn’t need anymore but I wanted to write some stuff in my biggest notepad and found some written stuff from around 2009. It was a ten year echo from what felt like another dimension. There were notes about sending emails to people I can no longer recall, scripts that were dead ended long ago and half finished character profiles. I didn’t want to write anything else in that book as it just felt like adding to previous failures. A fresh one has a better outlook.
I’m thinking I might start working on a couple of short stories just to have an outlet that won’t be a massive fifty thousand word mess. It might prove to be a stupid idea in the long term as it’ll take even longer to get the book done but when was I ever in a rush?
Two years ago around this time of year I ran out of writing steam. The initial excited charge of the book beginning had worn off and the entire project sunk in spectacular fashion. It took four months to get the thing airborne again.
I’m trying to avoid a similar event this time around. Now though my son is off school for the summer so writing during daylight may be difficult. I may have to do what I’ve done this evening and that’s have a very focused two hours once everybody else is in bed. I managed to complete a tricky chapter doing this tonight.
Small charges. Bits of progress.
Another chapter ripped up and rejigged. The start seemed okay with my police officer taking a short trip down to the beach in the middle of the night to find an evidence of an alien encounter. In the original first draft though he certainly finds that and was physically chased by the thing. Now though it was better to save that for later. He’s a cynic and a disbeliever so any direct contact now will blow any kind of tension apart especially as he’s meeting somebody who claims to have seem strange things going on.
He certainly finds something there below the sand but it won’t be the full show right now.
We’re nearly at the halfway point though and this thing is actually readable in places.
I can’t write when I ain’t feeling.
When I’m not writing I can get really down about it. This then spills out into other aspects of my life and a vicious cycle starts. A couple of weeks ago I was stuck in a rut of struggling to write. I’d spend days feeling like a meat machine just carrying out programmes for the same situations everyday and coming home to find myself spending evenings watching a stream of garbage on YouTube simply because it was on the TV. What I really didn’t want was another stretch like this time last year when I spent around four or five months only doing about five thousand words.
This afternoon I found a groove though and it’s a simple thing that seems to have got it going.
This morning I went for a cup of coffee with Kathleen and John, two members of Dumfries based ghost hunting group Mostly Ghostly. Long time readers of this blog may remember my meetings with them a few years ago and attending their Ghost Walks around Dumfries. It had been a long time since I’d last seen them but we managed to get in touch and arrange a day for them to come through to Gretna for a catch up.
It was fantastic. They told me a bit about their future plans (very exciting) and they asked about the book. I gave them the synopsis and they were both interested. It’s a small thing but it felt really good that at least a couple of people were saying they’re interested in the final result. It’s certainly an ego thing but it was the first opportunity I think I’ve had to tell people about the book outside of my day job. That ‘isolated writer’ feeling was blown away for a short while. I got home with a small bit of belief in myself. Small but significant as it turned out.
I’d done the shopping, the dog was being looked after so I didn’t need to walk it, my son hadn’t got home from school. The way was clear to write about a thousand words which, having read them back, have a vibe that feels like me. Some writers make a big noise about ‘finding your own voice’ and whilst I don’t think I’ve got that far I am starting to get phases when I am happy with what I’m putting down on a page. That stuff matters to me and it matters as far as getting this book done. I’m in a much better frame of mind as a result of this afternoon as well.
Today was a good day.
I had a few days away, I meant to take my laptop and do some writing whilst I wasn’t home but it didn’t happen. I was staying with the in laws and it may have looked slightly rude if I just put my computer down on the dining table and ignored everybody else whilst I worked away.
As such I’ve only just got underway again tonight and, to my dismay, realised that I had stopped right before a really tough section. It’s the first meeting of the police officer and the Mother of the missing child ten years after the fact. There was a simple note from my read through right after all this that simply says ‘This conversation feels really forced’. In a way it’s supposed to as it’s both characters reacquainting themselves with each other but realising they’re still not seeing eye to eye even after all this time. The entire thing felt really exposition heavy though, as if subliminally I’d taken this opportunity to dump a whole ton of facts down.
Therefore I’ve carved it up and cut it down a lot. She is trying her level best to ignore him and he holds out an incredibly pathetic olive branch that he thinks might just save the situation. It doesn’t and she leaves the scene wondering why exactly the ever thought this town could ever change. In draft one they just seemed to be exchanging pleasantries.
It works better but I’m not quite deleting that note just yet.
I’m getting bizzare levels of book anxiety now. If I don’t get at least a chunk of this rewrite done each day then I’m getting worried. Sometimes this means I’ll try and write for a short while and start really beating myself up about it if I don’t feel I’ve done enough on it.
So doing nothing makes me feel guilty, only managing to do a little makes me feel worse. It’s really strange and quite horrible.
Add to this the constant sensation of this all being a waste of time. The loudest voice in my head is the one saying that this is just a hokey alien story set in Scotland that nobody will want to read. By the time this is anywhere near ready I’ll have been working on it for around three years. That’s a long time to work on something and it not to really go anywhere.
It’s been a frustrating day, just in case you can’t tell.
Questions I get on a few occasions lately.
“What’s the book about?”.
So I tell them. It’s usually followed by…
“What’s the ending?”.
To which I do not answer, instead suggesting they might be interested in buying the final thing if they want to know that badly.
This then leads to…
“So are you publishing this then?”.
The answer would obviously be ‘Yes’ but I’m not sure exactly how yet. I figured long ago that I’d be far better off with actually getting the book itself done before I started looking at avenues to bring it to an audience. I actually Googled ‘Self publishing a book’ tonight as I was making dinner and it’s been something of an eye opener.
The main thing I can gain from it is that every single result I seemed to clock on suggested that self publishing was the greatest thing ever, that traditional publishing as we know it is dead and that it’s the easiest thing in the world to do as long as you give them $60.
I don’t really think that any publishing house or agent will want to touch this book. It’s not because it’s bad but more because I don’t think many places deal with science fiction anymore. I don’t really want to spend years sending out manuscripts, then wait around more and then get rejected.
Self publishing seems the way to go but then a lot of that just seems to be throwing it into a huge pile over at Amazon and watching it sink in the quagmire at 99p a go.
It’s still early days and I’m really not in a position to make any concrete plans about it now but does anybody have any experience of going down the independent publishing route? Any words of advice out there?